Archive for the ‘Intersections’ Category

Arthur Lourié: composing music as if it was a canvas

In one of our former posts, we reflected on Sylvano Bussotti’s scores and on his habit, of tracing them as he would do in front of a canvas: so that in many cases the border between the musical and the pictorial page is blurred or even removed. Reading his music often means browsing the page in various directions, following the paths, traced by dotted lines, arrows and pointers of other sorts; and seldom we can sink into the relaxing safety of left-to-right, top-down reading.

This possibility, of writing music in a spatially different way, was widely taken advantage of during the twentieth century, although without reaching Bussotti’s radicalism. But how far in time should we go back, in search of a pathfinder who first dreamed of “painting”, instead of writing music? A good reference point is Arthur Vincent Lourié (1892-1966), a Russian composer who, a few years after the Revolution, settled in France and then in New York. In his young years he was in close relationship with the poets Vladimir Majakovskij, Anna Achmatova and Aleksandr Blok; and then he was among the subscribers of the Futurist Manifesto in Russia, forestalling Marinetti who went there for promoting the Italian novelty, and found a group of Russian artists and scholars forcefully determined to claim their novelty…
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You can listen to Arthur Lourié’s Formes en l’air (à Pablo Picasso), performed by Alfonso Alberti inside the concert:

Alfonso Alberti – Piano Music and Visual Arts – 1
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Sofija Gubajdulina, or the freedom of narrating themselves

Could music narrate? In this sense, could the intersection between the art of sounds and the art of narration emerge?

That’s far from indisputable, although it is, in some respects, a natural enough fact. It could be natural, for example, to ask “what is happening now?” at any point of a piece, and expect that the five, ten or twenty forthcoming minutes will be an oriented whole, with a beginning and an end, where each moment is the consequence of the preceding and the premise of the following one. But it could not be so, and in fact for music of different times the narration metaphor could not be a mandatory key, sometimes it would even be inappropriate. A better alternative could be the rhetorical metaphor (the piece as discourse), for example, that can fit much of the baroque music, or the architectural one (the piece as building).

A great part of Sofija Gubajdulina’s (born 1931) work, instead, definitely narrates.

Let’s consider De profundis (1978) for accordion. Missing the true characters (in music there are no proper names and surnames), we meet archetypes: using an appropriate capital letter meaning the symbolic power of musical structures, we’ll meet for example the Dark and the Bright, generated by the powerful mechanics according to which being an acoustically low or high sound always carries along with itself the two opposing visual suggestions.

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Corrado Rojac plays Sofija Gubajdulina’s De Profundis on Limenmusic Web Tv
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Photo by Dmitri N. Smirnov (Own work)
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“En blanc et noir” and his neighborhoods: or, what should we do against war

In 1914, First World War broke out, and soon came to France. Claude Debussy, his spirit already marked by other (financial, familiar, medical) worries, will write almost nothing for a year: his first far-reaching composition completed in wartime will be En blanc et noir, for two pianos, in 1915.

The second among the three pieces which comprise this work is a peculiar example of how a musician would compose during wartime. First of all, as a motto for the piece there is a fragment of the Ballad against France’s enemy (1416) by the French poet François Villon:
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Prince, porté soit des serfs Eolus
En la forest ou domine Glaucus
Ou privé soit de paix et d’espérance
Car digne n’est de posséder vertus
Qui mal vouldroit au royaume de France

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Music for starry skies, by Alfonso Alberti

John Cage was an ingenious master of intersections. Once he was also on the verge of a very peculiar intersection with gastronomy, when he dreamed of composing a piece where he was cooking notes and the audience were eating them. That piece, clearly, remained in the world of dreams, but there are many notable cases where his music is intertwined with a variety of other disciplines.Astronomy, for example – or, better, astral geography. In the Seventies, when many composer were still creating post-serial composition rules, he used to take maps of the starry sky, lay on them transparent music paper and “compose”. A star is a tone, a constellation becomes a series of tones. And then, with a number of details in need of specification (should this celestial body match with a single tone or a chord? A chord of how many tones? Natural or altered tones?) he used to browse the I Ching, the popular Chinese oracle, and through its responses refine the whole. A “whole” that was the Etudes Australes for solo piano, thirty-two pieces collected in four books, totaling many hours of music, where the star map becomes phantasmagorical tones constellations, the two hands restlessly swirling across the keyboard…
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Music and calligraphy: Toshio Hosokawa’s percussions

The East is different. This simple reality is often clouded by the phenomenon everybody knows as globalization. The outlines of cultures are blurred and the differences softened, the amazement in front of what is far from us stops and we have the impression of knowing everything of everybody: in the West we are living in the era of conversions to Buddhism, of the wild commercialization of Zen philosophy, of geishas tales and so on. The face of Japan, by example, increasingly appears, with its big cities and multinational conglomerates, less different from the western counterparts. That notwithstanding, the East is really different (and the Zen is far more than a lovely reading for commuters), and also the intersections that happen there have something special.

As an example: the Nagasaki-born composer Toshio Hosokawa reports that when in the Noh drama a musician is preparing to play the tsuzumi, a percussion instrument, he brings forth the right hand, draws a circle in the air and only at that point actually generates the sound by hitting the instrument. The ensuing sound is laden with a peculiar tension, that begins through the gesture that comes before the real sound. The performer, in the preliminary gesture, lets out an exclamation, and this cry helps to raise the tension. As an outcome, the sound and the preceding silence are not each rival to the other, whereas the sound somehow takes his roots in the preliminary gesture…
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Sylvano Bussotti’s Pictograms

We often talk about notes. Overbearing subject, the note: a measurement, an exact frequency, a recognizable and codable object, that would qualify as the main parameter and overshadow everything else. Then we can refer to sound, and in this way we bring to light what was concealed at the side of the note, and beyond it. But it would be worth talking about the gesture – which causes that sound; and about the body, which makes that gesture.

Body and gesture (and therefore also theater) are pivotal concepts in Sylvano Bussotti’s poetics, a creator hanging between music and visual arts. In the fourth of the historical Five Pieces for David Tudor, a real drawing set in a pentagrams’ system, the double caption sheds a light on the double personality of the author: “1949 drawing” and “piano adoption: March 27, 1959”.

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The Two Planetoids of Maurits C. Escher and Federico Gardella

Maurits C. Escher (1898-1972), the Dutch artist, was a famous master of optical illusions. Little men who climb up and up and up and then, without ever turning around, it comes out that they go down and down and down. People who, seen from a certain point of view, are normally walking and, seen from another perspective, are instead hanging upside down. And so on. But Escher was also a master of mirrors and parallel words that reflect each other. In Three Worlds, on a very narrow gap the real presence of what is just there (leafs), the filtered image of what is underneath (fishes) and the reflected image of what is overhead (branches) are intertwined. In Three Spheres II, the three spheres reflect each other, reflect the writing desk (that in its turn reflects them – and so they reflect also their reflection on the desk) and finally give us also a reflection of the artist who is drawing them.
In Double Planetoid, there are two imaginary tetrahedron-shaped and interweaved celestial bodies. One, with a completely smooth surface, on each of his four edges accommodates a fortress with a fanciful outline, fully equipped with tower and flag…
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You can listen to Federico Gardella’s Di Rami e Radici, performed by Alfonso Alberti inside the concert:

Alfonso Alberti – Piano Music and Visual Arts – 1
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Intersections, by Alfonso Alberti

No German Sky: Death in Venice according to Gérard Pesson

This time, many are the intersecting characters: a novella, Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann (1911-1912); the same-name movie directed by Luchino Visconti (1971); the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony by Gustav Mahler (1901-1904); the life of the German poet August von Platen (1796-1835); and last a choir piece of the French composer Gérard Pesson, Kein deutscher Himmel (1997).

Let’s trace the story and stitch together all the pieces…
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Intersections, by Alfonso Alberti

“The rose is without ‘why'”: Angelus Silesius and Niccolò Castiglioni’s Mysticism

Dulce refrigerium, sechs geistliche Lieder für Klavier (1984) is the place, within the piano production of Niccolò Castiglioni (1932-1996), where the spirituality of the Milan-born composer is more fully expressed.

To get into the meaning of this spirituality we ought to say that it is deeply rooted in mysticism, and especially in that of the German poet and mystic Angelus Silesius (1624-1677).

The rose is without “why”
She blooms because she blooms
She doesn’t care for herself
She doesn’t ask if anybody sees her

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You can listen to Niccolò Castiglioni’s Dulce refrigerium, performed by Alfonso Alberti, inside the concert:
Alfonso Alberti – Ritratto di Niccolò Castiglioni
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Intersections, by Alfonso Alberti

Telling stories without rhyme nor reason

Arts history is full of powerful sentences, prohibitions, tabulae rasae. As in the golden age of Surrealism, when André Breton forbid even the composition of novels. No sooner said than done. Should the surrealists never write novels? Then Max Ernst, artist who at the time was very close to the Surrealism, in 1929 publishes one, La femme 100 têtes [The woman a hundred heads].
Red-handedness notwithstanding, in a sense there is no crime, because the said novel isn’t a novel. Not in the realist sense, at least, that is a novel reflecting reality according to traditional logic, with a beginning and an end, with well outlined characters whose whereabouts contribute to the building of a plot.
In La femme 100 têtes, the narrative element is completely removed. It is a “picture book”: a long sequence of printings with subtitles, organized according to the rules of the surrealist automatic association…
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You can listen to La femme 100 têtes, by George Antheil, performed by Alfonso Alberti inside the concert:

Alfonso Alberti – Piano Music and visual Arts – 1
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